Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Lords Of Salem (2013)

**This review contains spoilers**

In Salem, Massachusetts, Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) works as a DJ at the local radio station. With her trusted friends, Herman “Whitey” Salvador (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman “Munster” Jackson (Ken Foree), Heidi is apart of Salem’s hottest gothic rock radio team. Heidi is a recovering drug addict, who’s trying to turn her life around, but the delivery of a mysterious record from a band named “The Lords” changes everything. Heidi and other women slip into a zombified trance, when The Lords’ record is played across the airwaves, and Heidi can’t shake the lasting effects from the strange tunes.

Back at her apartment complex, Heidi encounters a series of strange disturbances from an unknown tenant in apartment five. Heidi’s landlord doesn’t find any signs of foul play, but Heidi slowly descends into madness, as the evil presence from The Lords’ record consumes her. Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), an author and expert on the Salem witch trials, is a guest on Heidi’s radio show one day. And after examining The Lords’ record, Francis decides to investigate The Lords, and do more research on Heidi‘s past.

As Heidi relapses into drug abuse, Francis studies Heidi’s family tree. Heidi’s real last name is Hawthorne, and Heidi is a descendant of Reverend Johnathan Hawthorne (Andrew Prine). Jonathan Hawthorne played a crucial role in destroying an entire coven of witches during the Salem witch trials, but he was cursed by the leader of the clan. The curse would fall on a descendant of Hawthorne, who would lead the modern-day clan of Salem witches…….and Heidi is the descendant. Heidi’s landlord and her two friends share bloodline ties to Salem witches of the past. Heidi’s landlord and her friends carefully and secretly plotted to initiate Heidi into their clan, but Francis and Herman Whitey suspect something fishy, as Heidi continues to sink into a deeper hole. Heidi will have to face the horrors in apartment five, and the possibility of leading the modern-day Salem Witches.

Sheri Moon Zombie isn’t a horrendous actress. She gets a lot of flak for constantly appearing in her husband’s films, and a lot of the hate is unnecessary. Is she a great actress? No. Is she the type of actress, who can elevate a film with her performance? No, no she’s not. But Sheri is capable of delivering decent and solid performances. It’s one thing if you’re tired of seeing Sheri in Rob’s movies, but she’s not an unbearable abomination of an actress, who couldn‘t “act her way out of a paper bag“ so to speak. Also, Rob Zombie isn’t blind, and he doesn’t live under a rock. He has to know about the criticisms surrounding his decisions to constantly re-cast Sheri in all of his movies. But Sheri keeps popping up regardless. Honestly, I’ve seen enough interviews with Zombie, and he doesn’t strike me as the type of person, who would care about the complaints.

Anyway, in The Lords Of Salem, Sheri is kind of dull as Heidi at first, but she shows more personality during Heidi’s downward spiral. Sheri’s Heidi isn’t an Oscar worthy performance, but she’s believable, and I could feel sympathy for her character. Daniel Phillips is just there, you won’t see too much of Ken Foree, and the group of women, who portrayed the modern-day witches trying to seduce Heidi brought too many unintentional laughs (more on that later) out of me.

Rob Zombie is and always will be one of my favorite filmmakers. I admire and respect his passion and enthusiasm for the horror genre. As usual, Zombie spares no expense for blood and brutality. The Lords Of Salem is guaranteed to make you squirm, and you’ll know you’re in for a sick and twisted ride after the opening satanic ritual. Zombie delivers a few jump scares every now and then (the first in Heidi’s apartment with the witch corpse hanging in the far corner of the kitchen is the best one), and he creates the perfect spooky atmosphere (mainly during flashbacks to old Salem). I don’t own any of his albums, but Zombie’s selected soundtrack is a good fit for The Lords Of Salem. It’s not too distracting, but at the same time, the music helps set the right mood for each scene. Also, Zombie’s retro style intro for Heidi and The Herman’s radio show was pretty cool, because the intro looked and felt like an authentic throwback to the 70’s.

The Lords Of Salem uses the slow burn technique to unravel its story, and you have to figure out a lot of major plot points, because Lords doesn’t provide any clear cut answers for the motivations of the main characters. I actually enjoyed the methodical pacing. Heidi’s downfall feels more devastating, because you see each step leading up to the ending. I was hooked into the mystery surrounding Heidi and the Salem witches…..until the ending. The ending feels rushed, and Zombie’s clusterfuck cramming of images during the finale almost gave me a headache. I anxiously anticipated the grand finale, but the third act was a disappointing and clustered mess.

Also, Heidi’s landlord and her friends are supposed to be kooky crones. I get that, but man they almost ruined this move for me. In the early stages of the movie, one of the witches is so hysterical and over the top during a palm reading for Heidi. This lunatic act wasn’t funny or creepy, it was just too much. And towards the end, as Heidi’s landlord and her friends plan to kill Francis before he warns Heidi, Heidi’s landlord and her friends start taunting Francis. The insults towards Francis veer into campy territory too often, and this scene just brought a deep, disappointed sigh out of me. 

Plus, Zombie’s “it was just a dream!” trick loses its shock factor towards the end. Throughout the movie, Heidi has dreams of attacks from dark forces. The dark forces also attack her friends, and Heidi believes everything is real, but then she wakes up. Zombie uses this trick more than once, and towards the end, Heidi’s dream sequences lose the intended shock factor.

You’ll see a lot of female nudity throughout this film, but don’t start drooling now, because you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high. A VERY select few (Sheri and another, couldn’t find her name) are supposed to be attractive and naked. The others? Eh, not so much, because the other nude scenes occur during the satanic ritual stuff. So yeah, use your imagination.

The Lords Of Salem is a bizarre and trippy horror film loaded with grisly images, and sadistic brutality. The cast isn’t great, and the third act is a big mess, but I’m still going with a positive score for this one. For good and bad reasons, you will not forget The Lords Of Salem. Salem is shocking, and Zombie’s unrestrained approach is guaranteed to bring a reaction out of you. It’s not my favorite Zombie film (Halloween 2007 is still #1, and no, I don‘t have a problem with Zombie explaining the origins of Michael Myers), but The Lords Of Salem earned a spot on my list of memorable moviegoing experiences this year.

Final Rating: 6/10

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